Tuesday, June 06, 2017

Populist backlash in Belize?

An interesting piece in the Guardian here by Nina Lakhani, which nevertheless appears to contain a multitude of small misconceptions. 
It's worth stating that the party which best represents Belize's creoles (the PUP) has been out of power for some time now. 
I think it's perhaps a little too easy to write off renewed resistance in our neighbour to cross-border immigration as 'anti-Hispanic' and that Belizean attitudes relative to immigration are unlikely to be simplistically xenophobic in the main. 
I'd wager they can appreciate that the refugee crisis of the 80s and the one that presents itself now are qualitatively different. Yes, some sort of 'violence' can be said to lie at the heart of both, but this time there are deeper demographic trends behind the disorder, trends which point to serious longer-term issues that a small nation and its limited institutions might struggle to handle. 
Since I first came to Central America infant mortality rates have dropped significantly and regional populations have become both markedly younger and healthier as well as better connected, and yet they are growing steadily within developing economies unable to expand fast enough to provide sufficient employment opportunities in the mainstream. 
A degree of social chaos inevitably ensues, and the relative murder rate in Belize has actually been higher than that of Guatemala (though not of course Honduras) in recent years. 
We know that climatological pressures are likely to inform an even greater surge of human mobility in years to come. I read this weekend how Nigeria's population will have risen from 38m (1.5% of global population) to 400m by the middle of this century (6.7%), more than Europe, the USA and the combined area of Latin America and the Caribbean. Africa overall may account for 40% of the total world population by 2050, while India is about to become even more populous than China. 
So...young, healthy, well-connected populations often threatened by environmental degradation and uneven levels of economic opportunity. What's likely to happen? 
My guess is that liberal-minded commentators will focus on the side effects like violent disorder plus the deleterious impact of climate change, based on the tried and trusted logic of making rich worlders feel guilty enough to absorb as much of this migration as might prove politically tolerable. 
But the global institutions involved, along with the popular goodwill in would-be host countries are all showing signs of being seriously over-stretched already. 
Burgeoning demographic pressures appear more impersonal and blame-free and thus tend to get mentioned rather less, but a relatively underpopulated backwater like Belize will surely have an inkling already of what could be at stake in the long term.
Conservatives think most migration is 'economic' (and sometimes almost overtly criminal) while liberals tend to characterise it as a flight response to something that can easily be blamed on the developed world. 
These are both partial truths — superficial takes on a far more complex problem and if the political debate remains couched in these polarities alone, it is somewhat unlikely that workable solutions will be enacted in time. 
Historians don't tend to use moralistic caricatures to examine patterns of migration in the past, so nor should our contemporary leaders. 
PS: As for the Garifuna, I think the official line is that they are of mixed African and Carib descent and speak an Arawak tongue, but there is probably no way to be entirely on the mark about this. I've always been convinced (though without any firm evidence it must be said) that many of the residents of Livingston are in fact descended from the Jamaicans who came en masse to work for the United Fruit Co.

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